The judge in Los Altos Planning Commission chairman Alexander Samek’s DUI case last week denied a motion to suppress evidence, leaving Samek’s attorney scrambling for additional time to mount a defense.
Samek’s attorney Josh Bentley filed a motion Oct. 22 arguing that CHP officers had no reasonable cause to pull over his client, who was allegedly spotted asleep at the wheel of his self-driving Tesla as it barreled down Highway 101 in Redwood City at 3:30 a.m. Nov. 30. Samek was charged with two misdemeanor counts – DUI and DUI with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or higher – both later enhanced by prosecutors due to his refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test. Samek pleaded not guilty to the charges in January.
According to the motion, Samek argued that his detention was illegal and thus all evidence subsequently obtained should be suppressed pursuant to the “fruit of the poisonous tree theory” – a legal doctrine asserting that evidence is inadmissible in court if it illegally obtained or derived from other illegally obtained evidence.
“His motion only says that the stop was without good cause – it didn’t have a basis,” said San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe in late October. “He’s right in that there was no weaving, he was staying in the lane with no speeding up or down. The car was driving just fine … but they did see him passed out at the wheel.”
Samek and Bentley appeared before Judge Susan Greenberg Nov. 12 to present their motion, and Wagstaffe said they presented no evidence.
Prosecutors, on the other hand, called in two witnesses – the CHP officers who allegedly saw Samek slumped over the wheel and guided his car to a stop – and played video footage from the officers’ patrol car dash cameras.
Greenberg watched the video, which showed the first CHP officer as he noticed Samek appearing to be asleep at the wheel, followed the Model S and then called for backup. The officer proceeded, according to police reports, to pull his car in front of Samek’s as his fellow officers surrounded the Tesla, engaging the car’s autopilot system sensors to slow it to a halt. The footage also captured Samek being escorted into a patrol car and taken to a gas station near the Embarcadero Road exit in Palo Alto for field sobriety testing.
After hearing testimony from both sides, Greenberg denied Samek’s motion to suppress evidence. Samek was scheduled to appear in court in approximately three weeks for his jury trial, according to the San Mateo County Odyssey court portal. However, Wagstaffe said Bentley requested a delay to complete additional work. No new trial date was set, but Samek’s counsel is slated to return to court Dec. 4 to set pretrial conference and trial dates.
Samek’s trial dates have been continued three times in the past year. Although his arrest made national headlines, the repeated delays are not out of the ordinary, Wagstaffe noted.
“Unfortunately, the criminal justice system today is far worse than it has been in previous decades,” he said in a phone interview with the Town Crier. “Dates get continued all the time. I’m willing to (bet) that (his trial) takes place in 2020. For all we know, Bentley could come in Dec. 4 and Samek could plead no contest. Who knows? Maybe it will go to trial.”